By David Sole
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has announced plans to open a “Global Center for Urban Transformation” in Detroit in October 2021. The WEF is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that describes itself as aiming to improve “the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.” It has been in existence since 1971 and is based in Switzerland.
This won’t be the first time the capitalist corporate, banking and political power-brokers have focused on the Motor City to promote their plans to strengthen their exploitative system on the backs of poor and working people.
The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the Moratorium Now Coalition played a pivotal role in all of these earlier actions and are part of a growing coalition to once again confront them. .
Back in 2005, Detroit hosted a Conference on the Cities that brought together business and banking interests. Activists from a broad range of community and union organizations responded and held a “National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities” from November 11 to 13 at Wayne State University. The focus of this counter-conference was to demand “Feed the Cities – Starve the Pentagon.”
Opposing the 2009 National Business Summit that gathered at Detroit’s Renaissance Center was a People’s Summit that occupied Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit (two years before the famed “Occupy Wall Street” came to that same location). The park was occupied from June 14 to 17. Hundreds of progressive people gathered daily to hear speakers, discuss strategies and launch marches to oppose the plots being hatched by the rich and powerful. A tent city sprang up for the four days.
In late October of 2017 the World Conference of Mayors met at the MGM Grand Hotel to supposedly celebrate the “revitalization” of Detroit. The mayors and the public were invited to attend a “Real Detroiters Speak Out” that was held on October 26. The Facebook page stated:
We invite all organizations in the City involved in the struggles against water shut-offs, foreclosures and evictions, police brutality, against union busting and for a living wage, immigrant rights, full access for people with disabilities, quality public education, deprivation of voting rights, and who are fighting racism, sexism and LGBTQ oppression in all its forms, to join the World Conference of Mayors, Real Detroiters Speak Out alternative….
The Speak-Out will fully expose the role of the banks, multinational corporations, the business media and political comprador elites in perpetuating the super-exploitation of the people of Detroit. The majority African American, working class and poor residents of the city are being totally left out of the so-called “rebirth of Detroit.”
Detroit’s “rebirth” has meant that the public revenues generated through the process of taxation are being funneled to the capitalist corporations. [We] will discuss a real agenda for the rebirth and rebuilding of our neighborhoods and communities. Real development in Detroit would focus on the rehabilitation of neighborhoods, the guaranteeing of jobs, housing, water services, heating and quality education for all. The banks who are responsible for the destruction of our neighborhoods must be held accountable through criminal prosecution and the payment of reparations.
One year later City Lab Detroit: Global Cities Summit convened. From October 28 to 30, 2018 speakers like Mary Barra, Chairperson of General Motors and Michael R. Bloomberg, multi-billionaire, put forward their skewed vision of urban revitalization ignoring the real problems of the people of Detroit and other metropolises.
Refusing to allow these ruling class exploiters to define the problems and solutions, the Moratorium Now Coalition held a Teach-In on City Lab: Real Detroiters Speak Out on October 28. Literature to publicize the Teach-In observed:
As Detroiters we know that it is the banks, multinational corporations and their repressive bureaucratic agents which in effect run the city in the interests of ruling class billionaires. Despite its public relations rhetoric which claims that City Lab is concerned about improving conditions in urban areas, we witness on a daily basis the systematic dis-empowerment of the majority African American and working class population of Detroit.
The city has been underdeveloped by the financial institutions, the service sector and industrial plants. Over the last decade or more some 250,000 people have been forced out of Detroit through job losses, mortgage and property tax foreclosures, utility shut-offs involving water, heating and lighting, school closings and environmental degradation.
We have to build fightback movements which challenge the illegitimate right of the ruling class to govern at our expense by placing the interests of the masses at the forefront of any political and social program. We need to be organized at the grassroots levels to defeat the enemies which are continuously exploiting and repressing the people of Detroit and other municipalities throughout the state, the country and indeed the world.
Following the Teach-In the participants marched to the Marriott Westin Book Cadillac Hotel to join in solidarity with striking workers who had maintained picket lines around the clock starting September 18, 2018. Victory in the strike came only one week after the Teach-in.
The plans for the World Economic Forum to open a permanent office for their Global Center for Urban Transformation is a continuation of this series of prominent events promoting a ruling class vision for cities. WEF spokesman Jeff Merritt told the media:
Our view is that there is some great work that is happening, will be happening in Detroit. We want to help tell that story and how Detroit can be a model – an inspiration really – for other cities around the world.
What these vultures really ought to say is that Detroit is an example of how billions of dollars can be milked from the public trough without massive protests or uprisings. The truth is that Detroit’s “renewal” saw the imposition of a dictatorial “Emergency Manager” from Donald Trump’s law firm of Jones Day in March 2013. Then a fraudulent bankruptcy was rammed through Federal Court with the collusion of Judge Stephen Rhodes and his cronies that ended up taking over $8 billion from City of Detroit retirees. An estimated 250,000 people have been forced from the city through criminal predatory lending practices of the banks along with 100,000 water service shutoffs. Important assets owned by the City were taken including the City owned water and sewerage system, Belle Isle Park, the Detroit Art Institute and more. Over $600 million was looted from homeowners in over taxation that those who benefited will never pay back.
These are some of the lessons that are being shared as they revel in a gentrified downtown Detroit while the neighborhoods continue to be devastated and the people suffer.
A mass mobilization of all progressive forces certainly should come together to expose and condemn the WEF’s plans for Detroit. A real program of urban transformation can only come from the grassroots organizers across Detroit’s neighborhoods. Such a program must include the demand for reparations to be paid to Detroit families by the banks and corporations.